Monday, January 25, 2010

What does Massachusetts Mean for Maryland?

The Republicans’ win in the Massachusetts special U.S. Senate election has upended the nation’s capital. But what does it mean for Maryland? We convened a virtual roundtable of our savviest political spies, all of whom are knowledgeable Democrats, and their answers were brutally honest. In some cases, they were just plain brutal.

Party Activist:

Ehrlich is running. Kratovil is dead and Bartlett is sailing to reelection. Also, the long term repercussions for Van Hollen are very bad. He got into this cycle thinking it would be a small loss and now they may lose the House. If that happens, his leadership ambitions could be crippled.


People are angry - across the country and in Maryland. They are worried about their jobs, providing for their families and living the quality of life that they’ve become accustomed too. I don’t think it means much for O’Malley, frankly. He is a good, hard campaigner and can raise the money to win. The problem is for our down ticket races, where the public has bought into the national hype of bloated government that overspends and has forgotten that their schools, community centers, roads and parks are funded by government. State government is the redheaded stepchild because people don’t know what State government does for them. People forget that the State provides significant funding for schools and roads and hospitals - the services that support their everyday lives and their communities.

In the end, the Tea Party candidates are a referendum on the Republican Party. The Republicans aren’t providing the Tea Partiers with what they want and need in a political party, so they have become a spin-off. No Tea Party member is a liberal that would vote for a Democrat. Yet, the Republican Party is attempting to co-opt their anger in order to advance their own political agenda and, by inference, continue the two-party system - essentially the opposite of the roots of the Tea Party movement. (A side note - the head of Maryland AFP is a former Ehrlich campaign guy.)

So, many Senators, Delegates, County Commissioners and Council Members will have more difficult races because (1) people assign the hype of federal big government and national overspending to all Democrats by inference, regardless of how conservative or liberal they may be and (2) Democrats don’t boil their positions down to soundbites - a great talent of the Republicans - because government is more complicated than soundbites and (3) people have forgotten that government does actually do good things for their families and communities.

But that doesn’t work well in elections.

Elected Official:

Nobody owns their seat.

Elected Official:

It increases the likelihood of Ehrlich jumping into the Governor’s race which, in turn, increases the likelihood of down-ticket, on-the-fence, serious, Republican state legislative candidates jumping into various key races around the state.

Elected Official:

I predict Maryland Democrats will hear the wake-up call from Massachusetts, invest in good polling, and respond to voters more wisely than Coakley did. The big message is, don’t take the voters for granted. Get out there, work hard, let them see you, let them know you want to earn their support. Scott Brown was right when he said the Senate seat was “the people's seat.”

Elected Official:

I’ll be honest, I really don’t know what it means for Maryland other than it gives the Republican Party serious hope. We Democrats have explained away New Jersey, we explained away Virginia, and we will explain away Massachusetts. At some point, we are going to have to address how the national scene has changed politically after just 14 months and realize Maryland isn’t immune from voter backlash about the economy. I believe people really expected the recession to be in our rear view mirror by now and the economy would be on its way back. Instead, foreclosures are still on the rise, jobs are still being eliminated, etc. Other than the stock market, there is no tangible indication that we are on track to be out of this anytime soon. Somebody has to pay a political price for this and the tab may not have been settled yet.

Party Activist:

Voters are very angry and don’t like incumbents, and they will vote for a good-looking challenger who works hard and asks sincerely for their vote, and such a challenger will have a chance if the Democrat is too nonchalant and does not ask the voters for their vote and show she/he deserves it.

I don’t see any such challenger from the Republicans either in the County or the state. Nor do I see any incumbent Democrats who are in danger of losing to Republicans. This is due not only from the Democratic primacy in the registrations, but also from the fact that the state, while suffering considerable unemployment, is not as bad as Mass. on the loss of jobs.

There may be a few Dems in the County who could lose to Democratic challengers if they don’t campaign well and hard, but that had nothing to do with the Massachusetts election.

Elected Official:

1. Voters are pissed, and are looking to punish their government for its failure to turn things around. This may be the "throw the bums out" cycle that actually throws the bums out. I don't view it as partisan necessarily. But it doesn't help that Dems are in control.

2. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend would have lost in Massachusetts too.

3. A little frontal nudity in your past doesn't hurt.

Elected Official:

The Massaschusetts election impact on Maryland is going to be smaller than its impact on the nation. The bottom line is that all elections are referenda on the unemployment rate. This upcoming election could be very much like the 1982 election. If Obama passes health reform (i.e. if the House is smart enough to pass the Senate bill and fix the parts they don’t like with subsequent legislation) then the president will go into his first mid-term with high unemployment. Of course like Ronald Reagan, he will have also accomplished his greatest political objective. Like Reagan, he will lose seats but not his majorities. In Maryland, which has an unemployment rate 3% lower than the nation, it means Martin will win big and we’ll reelect everyone.

On the other hand, if the House refuses to pass the Senate Health bill then NO HEALTH LEGISLATION WILL PASS DURING OUR LIFETIMES! With high unemployment and nothing to show for ourselves the election could be just like 1994. In that case a competent Governor like O’Malley would still win (Parris squeaked out a victory in ‘94 and he was not an incumbent) but we would lose seats in the legislature (although fewer than in 1994).


Maryland Democrats should feel uneasy. The electorate is angry – whether it’s jobs, overreaching by Congressional Dems, taxes, or just a carryover from the Bush years. We may very well see a “throw the bums out” mentality come the primary and general elections.

In addition to the “national” issues, Marylanders will be angry at what they see as government’s inability to solve basic problems: bursting water pipes and congested roads are just two examples.

Moreover, Brown’s win in Massachusetts gives hope to the Maryland GOP.

This doesn’t necessarily spell disaster. There’s plenty of time between now and the elections, and lots can change. Only time will tell.

Elected Official:

It’s the economy stupid! Voters are mad as hell and they are not going to take it any more. The message is that people are really hurting. They are tired of reading in the paper that the economy is improving. Household budgets have been hit hard and things are not improving. I was at an event for Congresswoman Donna Edwards over the weekend and a woman came in off the street not intending on participating in the discussion. She came over to tell the congresswoman that she has been unemployed for two years. She has a master's degree in psychology. When her unemployment ran out she found a part-time job at a local retail store. She makes just enough to put her over the poverty line which means she does not qualify for Medicaid benefits. She just became homeless. This is one story out of many thousands that gets repeated day after day. If the Governor, state lawmakers and local elected officials do not listen carefully to the pain that people are feeling I think that Maryland is one election away from repeating the Massachusetts debacle. When the coalition that Democrats have always depended on to win - union members, people of color, women and young voters - stay at home on Election Day, the message to state and local Democrats is that the people have no patience for more pain.

Karen Britto, Chairwoman, Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee:

The Massachusetts election does not mean anything significant for Maryland. In general, a special election (which has a short-life in terms of campaigning) does not afford an opportunity to run a long-term get-out-the-vote operation that includes extensive canvassing, phoning and idenfication of Democatic voters. This type of GOTV is something where Maryland Democrats possess a great deal of expertise.

Maryland has already begun the campaign process and will be able to run an effective get-out-the-vote operation -- while simultaneously dispelling any myths that arise (similar to the myths about health care and climate change that were touted by the Republicans in Massachusetts).

Maryland Democrats have anticipated any challenges that could surface in November 2010 and are prepared to meet those issues and prevail over them.

David Lublin, MPW Founder and Professor, Department of Government, American University:

The Democrats had a glorious year in 2006 when anger at the Republicans and Bush was running high. Now health care reform appears on the verge of failure and unemployment is unlikely to come down enough to save the Democrats in 2010. Republicans will feel emboldened and motivated while Democrats will be demoralized and demotivated to vote by their inability to capitalize sufficiently on their thumping congressional majorities. In Maryland, Rep. Kratovil will be in deep trouble as he has not been in office long enough to insulate himself against a Republican tide showing any real strength.

The Democrats may suffer losses in the Assembly though that depends on four things: (1) the thin Republican ability to find decent state legislative candidates, (2) a good candidate for governor, (3) a gubernatorial candidate who knows how to mobilize state issues as even a pro-Republican mood is probably not enough Democratic-tilting Maryland, and (4) money to back Republican candidates. Past and future taxes will be a Republican issue. Any losses in the Maryland Senate undermine Sen. President Mike Miller since it is conservative, rather than liberal, Democrats who will go down and it diminishes his image as a protector of Senate Democrats.

In Montgomery, the yearning for new taxes has ceased as signaled by the narrow passage of the Ficker Amendment as well as the increases in a variety of county and state fees within memory. The need to raise the county property tax to counter the decline in valuations will accentuate this mood. Even in Democratic primaries, it will be difficult to attack incumbent candidates for being insufficiently progressive for not spending/taxing enough, especially if core priorities remain somewhat protected compared to elsewhere in the Union. At this point, it seems too early to tell whether pro-business/Chamber Democrats will benefit from the desire for more money in the till even if many still hold the business community responsible for promoting policies that landed us in this mess.

Our Take:

The Republicans still have an uphill battle towards a statewide victory because they cannot compete in Baltimore City or Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, which are three of the four biggest jurisdictions in Maryland. Neither the Tea Parties nor the Massachusetts special election changes that fact. But the Democrats’ voter registration edge will have a diminished effect on voting if some Democrats stay home and a quarter or more of those who vote go for the GOP.

Resource deployment decisions will change. In a more friendly environment, the Democrats could stretch their goals and try for wins in GOP territory, with Frank Kratovil’s 2008 victory being the ultimate example. But now they will have to play defense to protect vulnerable Senate and House seats in swing districts. This phenomenon will even filter down into safe Democratic districts as the party leaders will not have the luxury of protecting their incumbents from primary challenges. That means that Senators Jennie Forehand, Nancy King and Mike Lenett will likely be on their own against potential or actual opponents.